Altruistic birds foil scientists by helping each other yank off tracking devices

Researchers frequently attach GPS trackers to birds to better understand their behavior. But in doing so, one group of researchers observed a surprising behavior among a group of Australian magpies. "Despite previous testing demonstrating the strength and durability of the [tracker] harness," the birds helped each other snap off the trackers, according to University of the Sunshine Coast scientists.

"This behaviour demonstrates both cooperation and a moderate level of problem solving, providing potential further evidence of the cognitive abilities of this species," they write in their research paper.

From a piece they published in The Conversation:

During our pilot study, we found out how quickly magpies team up to solve a group problem. Within ten minutes of fitting the final tracker, we witnessed an adult female without a tracker working with her bill to try and remove the harness off of a younger bird.

Within hours, most of the other trackers had been removed. By day 3, even the dominant male of the group had its tracker successfully dismantled[…]

The birds needed to problem solve, possibly testing at pulling and snipping at different sections of the harness with their bill. They also needed to willingly help other individuals, and accept help.

top image: Toby Hudson  (CC BY-SA 3.0)